2 questions regarding cadavers

When going to a rather large book store (3rd Place Books) recently, I went to the science section and a book cought my eye, one called Stiff. The book is about human cadavers, with chapters on beating heart cadavers, medical use of cadavers, organ harvesting, the weight of the human soul, and other things. For those who have studied up on human cadavers, I have 2 questions.

  1. The book mentioned that a scientist (I don’t remember the name) performed a test in which he took 6 patients that were on the verge of death, and placed them (one at a time, of course) on a scale sensetive to 2/10 of an ounce. The purpose of the experiment was to weigh the human soul by observing whether there was a loss of weight at the time of death. After performing the tests, he found that there was a minute loss of weight at the time of death. He then performed the same test of dogs and found that there was no loss of weight, which he believed supported his earlier experiments further due to the fact that he, for religious reasons, believed that animals have no soul. The book then states that there ensued a large argument over the results of the experiment. My question is, was this argument ever concluded, and if it was concluded that there was another reason for the loss of weight, what was it that caused the loss of weight at the time of death?

  2. Before there were medical instruments to effectively detect whether a patient’s heart was beating, or to measure medical activity, doctors often had a difficult time determining whether a patient was actually dead. There were certain methods that were suggested to determine whether a patient was dead. I remember one method being placing a beetle in a patient’s are to trigger involuntary muscle movements. Another one was to simply inflict massive pain upon the patient using several methods I will spare you from knowing of. The reason such methods were taken to ensure that the patient was in fact dead was because of the large fear of burying someone alive. My question is, what other methods were used to try to tell whether a patient was dead, before there were effective instruments to detect this?

Jeffrey Dahmer.



Well, there’s a long-standing custom called a “wake” where the body is left unburied for a number of days. Many funeral customs in many times and places have involved a body lying unburried for some time, frequently involving viewing, religious ceremonies, etc, but part of the point is to give a not-really-dead person a chance to “wake-up” before they’re buried.

There’s also a saying that “if you aren’t dead before you go the embalmer, you will be afterward”. Which is true. Should you have the misfortune to be in a really deep coma the embalming process will unquestionably kill you for real, guaranteeting that you are not buried alive.

Cremation will also prevent a person from being buried alive, as will customs such as practiced by the Fore tribe of New Guinea up until the mid-20th century.

If this happens to you, remember to say “Gotcha Ya!”